Award-winning chef, cookbook author, world traveler and business owner are just a few of the titles held by our team of instructors in The Cucina. No matter what class you choose, you can be sure you’ll be learning from a highly experienced culinary professional. Browse through the profiles below to learn more about our talented team.
Julianna Wilmoth, Cucina Director
Julianna has enjoyed being in the kitchen ever since she was young. With a dietitian mom and chemist dad, both parents influenced her approach to food – healthy and thoughtful. After her first culinary position as assistant chef at a local hospice, she decided to further her education by attending the professional courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland. Their food philosophy – cooking with whole, fresh, local food and having fun in the process – is Julianna’s kitchen mantra. It was this training that inspired her to write for Irish American News as their food editor.
In the years since, Julianna has owned a personal chef and catering company while also working in other segments of the culinary industry such as corporate catering, sales, and teaching. After attending numerous nutrition classes and seminars at The University of Akron, she became involved with a local celiac group as chef-mentor while catering their fundraisers.
Julianna continues to be inspired by experiences when traveling, especially to her favorite city, New Orleans. She also volunteers at the Hibernian Club in Akron for holidays and special events, enabling her to revisit the unique foods learned in Ireland.
Jerry Risner is the Executive Chef at Gervasi Vineyard™. He manages multiple kitchens here and a large staff cooks and dishwashers. Jerry’s passion for cooking began while watching his grandmother prepare memorable homemade meals as he was growing up. He earned a culinary degree from Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked at the James-Beard-Award-winning restaurant, Azalea. Jerry went on to cook at the renowned Woodlands Resort near Charleston, South Carolina. He apprenticed with Browne Trading Company, one of the most highly regarded seafood purveyors in the country, and then sought out internships at some top restaurants around the country. Jerry returned home to Stark County to become the sous chef at Brookside Country Club. He joined Gervasi in 2010, and in 2011 received the American Culinary Federation (ACF), Akron/Canton Chapter Restaurant Chef of the Year award. Jerry recently earned the prestigious Certified Executive Chef® Award from the ACF. This recognition is not only a benchmark for personal and professional achievement but has also become recognized as a standard of excellence in the food service industry.
Nancy is the Pastry Chef and Sous Chef at Gervasi. She is responsible for all the desserts on our menus, as well as managing the Villa Grande kitchen and supervising preparation of food for the Bistro. Nancy is a Canton native who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. She did an externship in Atlanta, Georgia and returned to Canton to create pastries for West Point Market in Akron and Brookside Country Club in Canton. Nancy went on to open her own pastry business before joining the Gervasi team in 2010.
A Canton, Ohio, native, Meg has worn a number of different hats in the food service business for 20 years. She currently owns Lemon Leaf Catering, specializing in elegant events, custom cooking classes, and private dinner parties. Earlier in her career, she relocated to Breckenridge, Colorado and then returned to Ohio to work at Glenmoor Country Club and Mustard Seed Market in Montrose. It was during this time that she realized her passion for cooking. She studied in the University of Akron’s Culinary Arts Program and is a self-taught pro at the grill.
Marsha Sommers Fillinger
Marsha is the Chef de Cuisine at Gervasi’s Crush House®. She graduated from the International Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh in 2002, interned at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Pittsburgh, and went on to cook at 91 Woodfired Oven, Iris, and Lucca in Canton. Marsha joined Gervasi in 2012.
Anne is the owner of On the Spot Gourmet, a personal chef company that specializes in interactive cooking experiences, as well as tasting menu dinner parties. She is a graduate of the Western Reserve School of Cooking and formerly worked as a pastry chef at the Great Lakes Baking Company. Anne has a passion for international travel and has taken cooking classes in Paris, Istanbul, and Brazil and worked in the kitchen of Benedetta Vitale in Florence, Italy. Her diverse interests in the culinary world include working as the Entrepreneur in Residence at Hiram College where she team-taught “The Art of Making Dough” – a class where students started a campus bakery. Currently Anne is pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Counseling to enhance her culinary team building sessions and explore culinary therapy.
An educator, restaurant consultant, and bread expert, Kathy was mentored by French Chef, Danielle Forrestier (Julia Child’s bread consultant) and has been teaching cooking classes for 31 years. Along with training from several national bread authorities, she also studied with Kiko Denzer and has built a wood-fired oven in her backyard from which she teaches bread-making classes. Kathy recently attended classes in Marina del Rey, CA with the Asssociation of Verace Pizza Napoletana (VPN) to learn the authentic process of making true pizzas of Naples, Italy. She is now the only person in Ohio who has received this training. Kathy is an expert in helping people understand the chemistry of bread making, thus building confidence and the ability to bake perfect breads every time.
Bob Sferra is a small business owner, chef, culinary arts professional, food-writer and consultant. Bob is a 24-year veteran of the hospitality and culinary arts industry with experience and training in France and New York City. Bob is a graduate of John Carroll University, the French Culinary Institute and has been awarded scholarships to attend the Ritz Escoffier (Es-co-fee-a) and Le Notre (Le Note) in Paris. His company, Bob Sferra Culinary Occasions, is a well-known leading caterer on the Cleveland food scene. Bob also owns The Culinary Occasions Shop; a boutique pastry and special occasion cake destination. During this year’s RNC, Bob’s company was the exclusive caterer for the Daily Show. Bob has made frequent television appearances in northeastern Ohio and currently is the corporate chef for Trevarrow, Inc. (Tra-verrow) Northeast Ohio’s exclusive distributor of Sub-Zero and Wolf gourmet kitchen appliances.
After a semester studying in Spain, Carla Snyder discovered just how delicious life could be. With a BA in journalism in hand, she began a 30-year culinary journey as a caterer, cooking school teacher, artisan baker, food writer, corporate culinary event planner, author of 8 books and blogger at ravenouskitchen.com. Her cookbook The Big Book of Appetizers,co-authored with Meredith Deeds, was nominated for a James Beard Award, and their 300 Sensational Soups was chosen by Good Morning America as one of the top 10 cookbooks of the year in 2009. Carla’s most recent release is titled One Pan, Two Plates Vegetarian Suppers.
A culinary educator, caterer, and chef for more than 30 years, Vicki spent many years in Europe and Asia before returning to the United States in 2000. She has had the honor of cooking for such luminaries as the late Benazir Bhutto, Anderson Cooper, Ken Burns, and the former Foreign Minister of Japan. Additionally, during her years in Asia she was the caterer of choice for many ambassadors and other members of the diplomatic corps. Upon her return to the United States, she accepted the position of Senior Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Manager at the Stark Conference Center of Kent State University. Subsequently, she became Market Kitchen and Catering Director for Mustard Seed Market in Solon and went on to run corporate dining for Jones Day law firm in Cleveland. At present Vicki works for a privately held conglomerate as the Executive Chef of their corporate lodging and catering operations.
Ellen Velez is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and The Culinary Institute of America with high honors. She has eight years of restaurant experience under her belt and has also developed recipes and done food styling for Woman’s Day and Art Culinaire magazines. After cooking for clients on the side, she decided to start The Secret Chef, a catering company, in 2005 and grew the business for 10 years before selling it to her resident chef.